EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: How California’s Labor Unions are Building the Workforce for a Clean Energy Future

January 8, 2020

An ACT News Executive Interview with Jose Mejia, Director, California State Council of Laborers (CSCL), on how labor unions in California, and across the country, recognize the importance of investing in clean energy and infrastructure, and building the workforce to support these growing, green jobs.

Born and raised in California, Jose Mejia began his career in the construction industry, working for various employers throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. As Jose advanced in the industry, holding supervisory positions as Foreman and General Foreman, he began engaging more with the Laborers (LiUNA), serving as a Business Representative and Executive Board Member at the local level for over 15 years.

In 1999, Jose joined the team at the California State Council of Laborers as Director of Research and was appointed Director in 2004. During this time, he led the implementation of many changes in labor law, policy, and regulation. To date, he remains an active voice for labor-management relations for the construction industry in California.

Investing in critical infrastructure while supporting training, workforce development, and the advancement of job creation in California are at the forefront of the work the California State Council of Laborers has been doing for many years. The Laborers work in conjunction with California’s ambitious clean air and climate goals, creating and training the highly skilled and in-demand workforce required for California’s clean energy future.

Investing in critical infrastructure while supporting training, workforce development, and the advancement of job creation are at the forefront of the work the California State Council of Laborers does.

Jose Mejia has been a member of the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA) for 40 years, which currently represents 70,000 men and women in California in the construction industry.

Jose and the members and leadership of LiUNA recognize the unique economic and environmental opportunity that renewable natural gas projects (RNG) present, which is why he currently serves as a charter board member for the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas and champions renewable natural gas projects—supporting economic development, job creation, and workforce development in communities across California.

To learn more about how renewable gas projects, job creation, and economic development go hand-in-hand, join over 300 attendees including regulators, policymakers, and representatives from the biogas industry, at Renewable Gas 360 in Sacramento on January 23rd, a leadership summit aimed at fostering a circular economy that supports infrastructure development and job creation for California’s clean energy future.

ACT News caught up with Jose to learn more about being a clean and renewable energy advocate through his role with the California State Council of Laborers.

ACT News: The California State Council of Laborers (CSCL) is an important advocate for energy and infrastructure investment that will help make California more competitive and create good, green jobs. How does the development of a viable and robust renewable natural gas (RNG) industry help support these goals?   

Jose Mejia: When we invest in infrastructure, it has been a proven fact it triggers an economic boom with a domino effect. As California moves into an era of clean energy, it is important to note that the creation of these jobs have triggered a new wave of training through apprenticeship and other methods of retraining where necessary. Advocating for this new wave is of major importance in order to provide the workforce required to meet the demand from a growing industry. The Laborers is certainly one of the many others that seek to be part this industry.

We are able to capture work from RNG projects across California and partner with owners and contractors interested in utilizing a well-trained workforce.

ACT News: The RNG Coalition is the trade association for the RNG industry in North America. As a Board member, describe for us why the RNG Coalition is important for Organized Labor, and what activities can the California labor movement engage in to support the RNG industry?   

Jose Mejia: Again, we are able to capture work from RNG projects across California and partner with owners and contractors interested in utilizing a well-trained workforce. Within the Building Trades Unions and our partnering employers, we invest millions of dollars jointly in apprenticeship to ultimately provide a highly skilled workforce to support the development of RNG projects in California. We can be, and have been, a vocal voice for the RNG industry by engaging in the policy process ultimately helping to move policies forward that the RNG industry needs. Specifically, in California, organized Labor is well positioned to work with and support the RNG industry through the regulatory process.

We are seeing huge private and public investment in large-scale RNG projects, including anaerobic digesters and on-farm dairy digester projects, in California and across the country. Last year, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) awarded more than $67 million to 43 dairy digester projects in California. The projects represent over $300 million in economic development for the state, with over $234 million in private sector capital going straight to California’s Central Valley, where the RNG projects are concentrated.

Not only will these projects capture and process climate-altering methane that would otherwise be escaping into the atmosphere, they will boost economic opportunity and create long-lasting local jobs in contracting, site work, concrete, plumbing, electrical, permitting, and engineering during infrastructure development, and construction—not to mention ongoing site operations.

ACT News: Are other California labor unions expressing support for the state’s RNG industry? There are some individual Unions and of course the State Building Trades. What about outside of California? Who are other labor champions for RNG?   

Jose Mejia: At the national level, North America’s Building Trades Unions have been very active in moving this agenda forward. Supporting RNG development projects across the country aligns with their mission to create opportunities and pathways for the next generation – especially women, communities of color and military veterans – through our apprenticeship-readiness and formal apprenticeship education and training infrastructure.

LiUNA has also been on the forefront of supporting climate change legislation with carbon reduction targets as high as any other union. LiUNA members work in the construction and maintenance of various renewable energy projects and infrastructure. They have skills in new and emerging energy technologies and are trained installers of solar panels and a major part of a workforce in installing wind turbines and green roofs.

LiUNA has also been on the forefront of supporting climate change legislation with carbon reduction targets as high as any other union.

ACT News: What aspect of your role at the CSCL do you enjoy the most?

Jose Mejia: As Director of CSCL, I engage in many construction and non-construction related activities that impact the State of California. I consider it a privilege to represent those that I do every day. We must be their voice and always understand that what we do for them usually goes unnoticed until it doesn’t get done. The most rewarding aspect of my role with the CSCL is knowing we can change our members’ lives and the lives of their families by engaging in issues that make a real difference in their day-to-day world.

ACT News: What advice would you give to young organizers seeking to work at the CSCL?

Jose Mejia: Come in with a passion to help others. Be committed, creative and always think of the big picture. Be open to new ideas and make every effort to think in today’s world and not the past.

The most rewarding aspect of my role is knowing we can change our members’ lives by engaging in issues that make a real difference in their day-to-day world.

ACT News: What advice would you offer to young professionals interested in pursuing a similar career path?

Jose Mejia: Again, think about others and never make it about yourself. The Labor Movement is about others and the career rewards will come to you through the work we do for others.

ACT News: What do you feel companies and governments need to do to invest in clean transportation and energy innovation?   

Jose Mejia: Continue to invest and support the changes we need to make, especially to address climate change at the local and global level. It is also my hope that the policies created to address climate change are not so aggressive that they negatively impact the most vulnerable— creating other social issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. These are real people that must make drastic changes in the way they live.

ACT News: What gets your workday off to a good start? 

Jose Mejia: I am extremely proud of my team and our leaders within our organization. I look forward to the morning calls and meeting people for coffee or a meal.

Continue to invest and support the changes we need to make, especially to address climate change at the local and global level.

ACT News: How do you define “success”? 

Jose Mejia: Work hard and always engage where there is a high expectation of succeeding.

ACT News: What does true leadership mean to you?  

Jose Mejia: Have a vision with goals and always with demanding accountability.

ACT News: What do you work toward in your free time? 

Jose Mejia: Spending time with my wife and daughter. They both have been there throughout the years and in many cases I have been absent due to my work with LiUNA. I have been blessed with a daughter that continues to be close to me and is still “Daddy’s Girl!” We all enjoy sports outings, movies, concerts, dining and try to play a little golf considering our skills! Family is very important to me and I cherish every moment.